Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Researchers Discover Use of Radioactivity To End Poaching

Researchers from University of Utah with help from Kenya Wildlife Services have developed a new radioactivity method to end poaching which will save African elephants from extinction.

Through a means to measure radioactive carbon-14 deposited in tusks and teeth the researchers can reveal the year an animal died which can ascertain whether the ivory was taken illegally to curb elephants, hippos, rhinos and other wildlife.

The study is key in arresting poachers and ivory dealers claiming ivory they are using was taken before 1975 and 1989 when international agreements banned most trade of raw ivory from Asian and African elephants respectively.

“This could be used in specific cases of ivory seizures to determine when the ivory was obtained and thus whether it is legal as it has immediate applications to fighting the illegal sale and trade of ivory that has led to the highest rate of poaching seen in decades." Thure Cerling a researcher said.

Published in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,’ researchers used open-air nuclear bomb tests  in the atmosphere after the 1952-1962 nuclear weapons tests by US and Soviet, and the 1945 nuclear bombs in Heroshima and Nagasaki, in Japan.

The method uses the "bomb curve," graph showing changes in carbon-14 levels in the atmosphere absorbed by plants and animals in the food chain after analysing samples from 29 animal and plant tissues, most killed and collected in Kenya between 1905 to2008.

“The analysis revealed that various tissues that formed at the same time have the same carbon-14 levels which can determine age of ivory within about a year,” the research states.

The samples from animals died between 1905 and 1953 had minimal carbon-14 because they died before atmospheric nuclear weapons tests. The sample animals killed after 1955 had higher level, which can pinpoint the date.

"The dating method is affordable and accessible to government and law enforcement agencies as it costs about $500 (Sh42,500) per sample and can incorporate the use of DNA,” the study said.

Currently 30,000 elephants are killed annually with 70 per cent of smuggled ivory going to China in an illegal trade that has funded organized crimes and militia in Darfur, Uganda, Sudan and Somalia. So far only 423,000 African elephants are left.

Manuel Odeny © 2013

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